The downfall of one of the most prominent NCAA athletic conferences.
image c/o Tod Fierner / Saint Mary's Athletics
By Drew Paxman
Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley (Cal) announced their departure from the Pacific-12 (Pac-12) conference on Friday, September 1. The Pac-12, marketed as the “Conference of Champions,” has now officially dwindled down to two schools: Oregon State and Washington State.
In addition to Cal and Stanford, eight other schools have left the conference: the University of Oregon, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), University of Southern California, and University of Washington will join the Big Ten conference; and the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, University of Colorado, and University of Utah will join the Big 12. The reason for these departures? A failure on the Pac-12 to secure a media rights deal that would guarantee its member schools sufficient money.
“I think it is very sad for college athletics–especially on the West Coast,” said Saint Mary’s Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Michael Matoso. “If you look at the Pac-12 as a whole–it is the winningest conference in the country and to not have a Power 5 conference on the West Coast is pretty wild to think it will no longer be.”
With the departure of these ten schools, there have been a lot of conversations on the impacts this realignment could have on the mental health of student athletes, many of whom will now have to travel over 2,000 miles to play away games. Shannon Cunningham, softball catcher for Arizona State, was one of these athletes, taking to social media back in August 2023, “I chose to play in the [Pac-12] because of the ability to play close to home and in front of family. I chose the [Pac-12] so my family didn’t have to worry about far travel or giving up all their vacation time just to come see me. This affects athletes in every sport [and] academics.”
Sam DeCarlo, an infielder for the University of Washington’s baseball team, gave an example to further Cunningham’s argument, “[I]f we were to travel to a school like Rutgers in New Jersey, we might have to leave a whole day earlier to account for the time change. We always practice Thursday night after we make the [trip], but going to New Jersey we might have to leave Wednesday or very early Thursday morning in order to fit that practice in with the time change. This could lead to more missed class.”
Despite this different schedule, DeCarlo remains optimistic.
“I had a positive gut reaction to the news of Washington making the move to the Big Ten,” he explained. “Separating from schools like Stanford and Arizona will feel odd. However, I’m excited for the opportunity because I know it is the best option for our school and will ultimately elevate our school and athletic programs.”
Other than the departure of Brigham Young University (BYU) from the West Coast Conference and some other scheduling alignments, Matoso paints Saint Mary’s as being mostly unaffected by this news. “What could impact us is our scheduling with a lot of our sports as many of the Pac-12 schools may have increased conference schedules which could impact some of our non-conference scheduling,” he explained. “On the flip side, I am sure they will want to have some more regional opportunities to schedule.”
So then, what’s next for this new world of college athletics?
Well, there is still one more year of Pac-12 sports to be played, and this next year has already started off as a wild one. A judge from the Whitman County Superior Court in Washington “granted a request by Oregon State and Washington State for a temporary restraining order on Monday to prevent departing Pac-12 members from meeting until it can be determined who has the right to chart the future of the disintegrating conference” (Russo, Associated Press). The logistics and outcome of this restraining order remain to be seen.
In other news, the Pac-12 topped headlines with eight of its current 12 member schools making the AP Top 25 Poll for football, including Oregon State (16) and Washington State (23).
But for the long-term consequences, Matoso sees these changes as completely changing the culture of college athletics. “I think the NCAA should have been more active in finding a solution to separate football out,” he began. “Bottom line on all of this is it’s about football and TV money. We talk a lot about student-athlete welfare and mental health right now and I think these moves are the direct opposite of what is best for our student-athletes.”
Madison Sciba '24,